A primer in machine reading comprehension

If you’ve been following the various news and announcements from Microsoft on Microsoft Search at events like Build and Microsoft Ignite, you’ve probably come across a demo or two on Machine Reading Comprehension (MRC). For example, a search for “Can I bring my dog to work?” in Microsoft Search in Bing.

Let’s explore what MRC is…

In brief, MRC is the ability to read and understand unstructured text and then answer questions about it or effectively algorithms that can learn to answer questions about new documents with limited amounts of training data, incorporate common sense, and leverage external knowledge about the world. Our primary goal is questioning-answering in the real world: we envision an experience where getting the answers you need to complex questions about your documents is simple, effective, and intuitive.

In 2018 we shared an article describing how Microsoft researchers have created technology that uses artificial intelligence to read a document and answer questions about it about as well as a human.

It’s a major milestone in the push to have search engines such as Bing and intelligent assistants such as Cortana interact with people and provide information in more natural ways, much like people communicate with each other.

For example, today, you can ask Bing a question such as “how long does coca-cola last?”, and get an answer most appropriate to the question asked… but it’s more than that…

A key, additive component of most MRC models is semantic understanding. For example, using the question above, using semantic understanding, search retrieves documents on “soda”. Traditional search experiences would conversely do keyword matching and simply attempt to find one or more documents or articles that have “coca-cola” in them. However, using deep learning, search engines such as Bing, understand that Coca-Cola is a soda, and retrieves related documents and articles (even though it doesn’t have word “Coca-Cola” in it) that satisfies the user’s intent.

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Above, Machine reading comprehension and semantic understanding in Microsoft Search

To summarize, in search applications, machine comprehension will give a precise answer rather than a URL that contains the answer somewhere within a lengthy web page. Moreover, machine comprehension models can understand specific knowledge embedded in articles that usually cover narrow and specific domains, where the search data that algorithms depend upon is sparse.

To learn more about deep learning and MRC refer to the articles below:

Machine Reading Comprehension

Microsoft creates AI that can read a document and answer questions about it as well as a person

Deep learning and machine reading comprehension

4 simple tips to being more productive in 2020 with AI and Cortana in Microsoft 365

Time is our most valuable resource and with the rapid pace of work and ever expanding amount of information we need to process, it’s often hard to find time to manage our work.  AI and Cortana in Microsoft 365 puts you at the center so you can do your best work with intelligent, natural, and personalized productivity experiences.  Here are four tips to being more productive in 2020 with AI in Microsoft 365.

  1. Make time for focus
  2. Put your personal assistant to work
  3. Get a head start on your day
  4. Stay informed

Make time to focus

Create a focus plan in MyAnalytics and rule your day.

Productivity preferences are different for everyone, but experts on deep work report that setting aside regular blocks of time to focus on challenging work can have massive benefits. With a focus plan, MyAnalytics will help you establish a daily focus time routine. The focus plan will offer you the flexibility to have daily focus time booked automatically based on your availability, or surface suggestions to book focus time manually as you work in Outlook. The automatic booking algorithm will prioritize booking morning hours, if they are open, so you can be at your peak capacity for tackling challenging analytics tasks.

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The focus plan in MyAnalytics helps you set aside regular focus time for your top-priority work. This plan helps you schedule one to two hours every day to focus, with an option to book that time automatically. During the booked focus time, it silences chats in Teams and in Skype for Business.

Learn more about focus plans in MyAnalytics at https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/workplace-analytics/myanalytics/use/focus-plan.

Put your personal assistant to work

Get control of your calendar with Scheduler.

Often the hardest part of meetings is scheduling them, whether finding the right time or the right location.  Let Cortana help manage the logistics so you can focus on the purpose.  Simply let Cortana know your meeting needs in the body of the email. You can tell Cortana the duration, timing, or location, or simply say “Find a time for us.” Since Cortana understands natural language, there are no special commands to use.

Scheduler Demo.2019-12-05 09_07_32

With the speed of artificial intelligence and the personal touch of a human assistant, it’s the best of both worlds. Cortana communicates with your contacts by email to provide a natural, almost human, scheduling experience.

Learn more at https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/scheduler?rtc=1 and sign-up for the exclusive preview.

Get a head start on your day

Get productivity tips from where you’re already working.

Information moves quickly and it’s not always easy staying on top of tasks and commitments.  Have you ever missed an important email or forget a commitment you made to your co-workers? Do meetings and emails tend to take over your calendar? Do you ever wish to see reminders for 1:1 meetings with your manager, direct reports, or other top collaborators? Would you like to be notified if an upcoming meeting doesn’t have a quorum?

Let the Outlook Insights add-in help you stay on top of your e-mail, tasks, and more.  The Outlook add-in provides actionable insights to help you stay on top of your tasks and get more done. This add-in is an extension of your Outlook experience and works within Outlook to help you gain focus time, maintain your work relationships, and improve your overall work-life balance.


MyAnalytics can also help you follow up on requests you asked of others in email. MyAnalytics will automatically find tasks you requested of others based on your sent mails. For example:

  • “Can you send me this year’s latest report?”
  • “Everyone, please complete your performance evaluations by the end of the week.”
  • “Cancel my RSVP for Carrin Patman’s lunch scheduled early next week.”

Learn more about the Insights Outlook add-in at https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/workplace-analytics/myanalytics/use/add-in.

Stay informed

Let Microsoft Search help you find what’s important and trending around you.

Let’s face it, we’re inundated with more information than ever.  Microsoft Search helps you discover what’s trending around you so you can keep informed and get back to what you were working on easily.  Whether you’re looking for a file in SharePoint or a conversation in Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Search is there to help.

Microsoft Search in Office.com.2019-12-05 11_45_57

Learn more about Microsoft Search at https://aka.ms/MicrosoftSearch.

Learn more about AI and Cortana in Microsoft 365 and get more productivity tips at https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/blog/2019/11/04/ai-cortana-microsoft-365-people-at-the-center/.